New Tools to Assess Health Risks From Chemicals

October 15, 2007

Determining how thousands of chemicals found in the environment may be interacting with the genes in your body to cause disease is becoming easier because of a new field of science called toxicogenomics. The NAS report was commissioned by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and a leader in the development of toxicogenomic technologies.

Toxicogenomic technologies provide tools to better understand the mechanisms through which environmental agents initiate and advance disease processes. They also can provide important information to help identify individuals that are more susceptible to the risk of disease posed by certain environmental agents than the general population.

“Using toxicogenomic technologies will open the door for public health decision-makers, who need to decide in a timely and accurate manner what chemicals are safe and which ones are not,” says Christopher Portier, Ph.D., Associate Director, NIEHS and Director, Office of Risk Assessment Research.

The report from the NAS National Research Council (NRC) entitled, “Applications of Toxicogenomic Technologies to Predictive Toxicology and Risk Assessment,” states that the technological hurdles that could have limited the reproducibility of data from toxicogenomic technologies have been resolved and recommends ways for the field to move forward.

“NIH and others have invested in the development of these tools and have already tackled many of the tough technical questions. We are now ready to move to the next phase of technology development, refined standardization and validation, so these tools can be even more useful to regulatory agencies,” says Portier.

“The NIEHS and NTP have been steadily increasing the use of toxicogenomic and other technologies derived from the molecular biology revolution,” said Samuel H. Wilson, M.D., NIEHS Acting Director. The research and initiatives supported through the National Center for Toxicogenomics and the Toxicogenomics Research Consortium, for example, were at the forefront of these technologies and were leaders in the development of many of the standards for quality and reproducibility that are used today.

The report, which was prepared by a panel of 16 scientists assembled by the NRC, provides a broad overview of the potential benefits arising from toxicogenomic technologies, describes challenges regarding use of new technologies, and provides 14 recommendations to achieve the potential benefits of these technologies.

Free Chemical Reactions Video

The Chemical Safety Board (CSB) has released a new safety video concerning the dangers of uncontrolled chemical reactions. The video features computerized animations and descriptions of four major reactive chemistry accidents investigated by the CSB, as well as commentary by two chemical process safety experts. It was released simultaneously with the CSB’s report on an accident that killed 1 worker and injured 14 others in North Carolina on Jan. 31, 2007.
The presentation begins with news footage of the Bhopal reactive chemical accident of 1984, which killed thousands. Much progress has been made in chemical process safety since Bhopal, says the CSB, but deaths and injuries continue to occur from uncontrolled chemical reactions in this country. The agency hopes the chemical industry will find the video useful in promoting prevention of these types of accidents.

“Reactive Hazards: Dangers of Uncontrolled Chemical Reactions” is the 13th safety video produced by the CSB. Free DVD copies also may be obtained by completing an online request form.

Drug-Free Work Week

October 14–20 is national Drug-Free Work Week 2007, and the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which heads the observance, is encouraging employers and workers to participate.

The purpose of Drug-Free Work Week is to highlight the fact that being drug-free is key to protecting workplace safety and health and to encourage workers with alcohol and drug problems to seek help, says DOL.


Job Strain Raises Risk of Heart Disease Recurrence

New research shows that job strain not only increases the risk of a first coronary heart disease (CHD) event, it increases the odds of further events as well.

This study "is the first time that the effect of stressful work has been evaluated in a large number of men and women of various ages who have returned to work after a first heart attack," study co-author Dr. Chantal Brisson, from Universite Laval in Quebec, Canada, told Reuters Health. She added that "previous studies of people who had a heart attack mainly focused on the effect of medical factors or personal characteristics including lifestyle. The effect of the work environment has rarely been studied."

The new study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association for October 10, involved 972 subjects, between 35 and 59 years of age, who returned to work after experiencing a first myocardial infarction (MI) and were followed for nearly 10 years. Job strain was assessed via interviews conducted at baseline (typically a few weeks after returning to work) and at two and six years.

Job strain was based on two parameters: psychological demands and decision latitude. High job strain was defined as high psychological demands and low decision latitude. The main focus was on the occurrence of CHD events in patients with and without chronic job strain, defined as high strain on the first two interviews.

Overall, 206 patients experienced the composite outcome of fatal CHD, nonfatal heart attack, or unstable angina, the report indicates.

Job strain appeared to have little impact on the risk of recurrent CHD in the first two years after the index event. Beyond two years, however, chronic job strain was associated with a 2.2-fold increased risk of recurrent events. The rates of CHD events for subjects with and without chronic strain were 6.18 and 2.81 per 100 persons per year, respectively.

Even after adjusting for 26 potential confounding factors, chronic job strain appeared to double the risk of recurrent CHD.

"These results suggest that preventive interventions aimed at reducing stressful work might prevent further complications for people returning to work after a heart attack," Dr. Brisson said.

"This means that recommendations should not focus exclusively on the individual, for example, by promoting a healthy lifestyle, but should also take into account the person's work environment.
We recommend that cardiologists and occupational health services be informed of this finding in order to reduce stressful work for those returning to work after a heart attack," she added.

OSHA Cites Mid-South Steel Products $148,500 for Safety and Health Violations

OSHA has cited Mid-South Steel Inc. of Cape Girardeau, Mo., for 3 alleged willful, 10 serious, and one other-than-serious violation of federal health and safety standards following a programmed inspection at the facility. The agency is proposing penalties totaling $148,500.

OSHA initiated its inspection as part of its amputations emphasis program, which was established to reduce amputation hazards in general industry workplaces. The inspection was expanded to include fall hazards, respiratory protection elements, and confined space issues.

Mid-South Steel Products Inc. manufactures and installs steel storage tanks for the petroleum industry.

“Mid-South Steel Products failed to take appropriate action to protect its employees,” said Charles E. Adkins, CIH, OSHA’s regional administrator in Kansas City. “Employers must remain committed to keeping the workplace safe and healthful.”

The alleged willful violations address fall hazards while working from the top of free-standing steel tanks and from a platform; multiple respiratory protection program violations, including no fit testing, no respirator maintenance, no high temperature or carbon monoxide alarm on oil lubricated compressor, no training, and no consultation with employees on respirator use. Additional willful citations included multiple confined space program violations, including no program evaluation, no program implementation, no ventilation during spray painting, no air monitoring, no completion of an entry permit, no training for the entrants and attendants, and no confined space rescue measures or equipment provided during entry. Willful violations are those committed with an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act and regulations.

Among the alleged serious violations are hazards associated with noise monitoring; smoking in a spray room; no lockout/tagout training to prevent accidental equipment start-ups; unsafe stacking of steel tanks; compressed gas cylinders not protected from falling; exposure to toluene exceeding the ceiling and peak limits; lack of engineering controls during exposure while spray painting within tanks; and, no chemical hazard communication training for employees exposed to products such as solvents. Serious violations are those that could result in death or serious physical harm about which the employer knew or should have known.

The other-than-serious citation is associated with an abrasive blasting respirator that was shared among users and not cleaned between usages. Mid-South Steel Inc. has 15 working days from receipt of the citations and proposed penalties to comply, request and participate in an informal conference with OSHA’s area director, or contest the citations and penalties before the independent Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission.

OSHA Proposes $128,000 in Penalties Against Manufacturer of Customized Vehicles

OSHA has proposed penalties totaling $128,000, including $70,000 for one willful safety violation, against Oshkosh Specialty Vehicles, doing business as Frontline Communications, for 13 safety and health violations at its Clearwater, Fla., plant.

"This employer is large and important, with ample access to safety information, but management is not employing this knowledge in its own workplace," said Les Grove, OSHA's area director in Tampa.

OSHA issued one willful violation against the company for not installing guards on its press brakes despite repeated injuries to employees and despite receiving compliance assistance information from OSHA. The agency issues a willful citation when an employer has shown an intentional disregard of, or plain indifference to, the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

One repeat safety violation with a penalty of $25,000 was issued for failure to provide fall protection to employees moving between vehicle roofs and mobile stairs or scaffolding.

OSHA inspectors issued nine serious safety violations with $28,000 in penalties and two serious health violations with $5,000 in penalties for allowing employees to operate equipment lacking safety guards; operating without lockout/tagout procedures, which are intended to prevent inadvertent machine start-ups; not inspecting overhead equipment prior to use; and not developing hearing conservation and written respirator programs.

NSF Launches New Indoor Air Emissions Certification for Office Furniture

NSF International, an independent, not-for-profit organization committed to public health protection, today announced the launch of a new air emissions certification program. The program will initially certify for low volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions of office furniture.

VOCs, such as Formaldehyde and Aldehydes, are chemicals emitted by a wide array of products, including paints, building materials, furnishings, copiers, and printers. VOCs may cause eye, nose, and throat irritation, headaches, nausea, and skin problems, but higher concentrations may cause irritation of the lungs, damage to the liver, kidney, or central nervous system. This new certification program directly addresses these concerns.

“Numerous interior furnishing products have been introduced into the market claiming a variety of environmental attributes,” said Dr. Kurtis Kneen, Director, NSF’s Chemistry Laboratory. “End users have been requesting help in order to understand the environmental benefits of each product and to be able to compare products using a consistent basis of measurement. Having standards in place that define and identify low-emitting furniture will assist manufacturers in communicating and end users in understanding environmental and sustainability-related product benefits.” 

The new certification program is based on a Business and Institutional Furniture Manufacturers Association (BIFMA) standard for Formaldehyde and TVOC Emissions of Low-Emitting Office Furniture Systems and Seating—ANSI/BIFMA M7.1.

“BIFMA identified a need for an open, consensus-based, and publicly available test method and standard for low-emitting furniture products. Having NSF incorporate American National Standard Institute (ANSI) standards into their program is further verification of that market need,” stated Thomas Reardon, Executive Director, BIFMA International, a non-profit trade association of furniture manufacturers and suppliers that promotes sustainable work environments and business practices.  ANSI/BIFMA M7.1 defines requirements for VOC emissions from office furniture classified as low-emitting products. The standard also:

  • Provides requirements for the emissions of VOCs from office furniture.
  • Specifies acceptance levels that define low-emitting furniture independent of construction materials, manufacturing processes, mechanical designs, or aesthetic designs.
  • Applies only to newly manufactured products.

In addition to obtaining NSF Certification and the right to use the NSF Mark on products or in literature, certified products can also be used to earn Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credits for building projects that specify the use of low-emitting furniture. LEED Certification is a nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of high-performance green buildings. 

For additional information about the new certification program, contact Kurtis Kneen, Ph.D., at 734-827-6874 or

CDC Presents First State–by–State Data on Work Limitations Caused by Arthritis


The proportion of working-age adults with arthritis who reported that the disease was severe enough to limit their ability to work ranged from 25.1% in Nevada to 51.3% in Kentucky, the report said.

The study, “State-Specific Prevalence of Arthritis—Attributable Work Limitation—United States, 2003,” was released in CDC′s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. The data on arthritis-attributable work limitation covers adults aged 18–64 in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

“These findings show that large numbers of workers in every state are affected by arthritis,” said Janet Collins, Ph.D., director, CDC′s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. “With the increasing number of older Americans in the nation′s workforce, it is important that employers, health departments, and others take steps that help people with arthritis stay employed or become employed.”

The study examined the percentage of all working age adults in each state who experience work limitations due to arthritis and was conducted using self-reported data from the 2003 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. The variations across states may be related to the difference prevalence of arthritis across states or to the predominance of certain occupations, which can worsen arthritic symptoms, such as mining, manufacturing, and agricultural jobs, in some states.

“There′s no question that people with arthritis face a number of challenges,” said Kristina Theis, M.P.H., the study′s lead author in CDC′s Division of Adult and Community Health. “Fortunately, simple workplace accommodations like flexible work schedules, ergonomic work stations, and efforts to promote exercise and physical activity can help many workers who have arthritis.”

Arthritis, which comprises more than 100 different diseases and conditions, is the most frequent cause of disability in the United States, limiting the activities of nearly 19 million adults. Through its arthritis program, CDC supports activities in 36 states and works with partners to implement evidence-based community interventions to reduce pain and disability and improve the quality of life for people with arthritis.

DHS on Emergency Supply Kits

When preparing for a possible disaster, an essential step is to put together an emergency supply kit. 

  • Water—one gallon of water per person for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
  • Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
  • Battery-powered and hand-crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
  • Flashlight and extra batteries
  • First-aid kit
  • Whistle to signal for help
  • Dust mask to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
  • Moist towelettes, garbage bags, and plastic ties for personal sanitation
  • Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
  • Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
  • Local maps

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